Covid-19: Aviation must rely on technology to return to the skies

Forum Gandhi Mumbai | Updated on November 29, 2020 Published on November 29, 2020

To boost passengers’ confidence, global and Indian carriers are already introducing measures such as contactless check-in, risk assessment and Covid-19 testing

In an era where contactless has become the new normal, aviation industry players are tolling on tech solutions to track the spread of Covid-19, making travel touchless and seamless. Indian and global airlines including Vistara, Air India, Etihad, and Singapore Airlines are using technology to make travel safer for passengers.

A recent study by Amadeus found that technology plays a crucial role in supporting recovery. Nearly 84 per cent of travellers said the technology would increase their confidence to travel in the next 12 months by addressing concerns around mixing with crowds, social distancing and physical touchpoints.

“Access to technology that reduces human contact, queues and physical touchpoints were the ultimate factor for getting people to travel,” it said. The study was conducted among 6,000 travellers globally, of which approximately 1,000 respondents came from India.

Vinod Kannan, Chief Commercial Officer of Vistara, also believes that in a post-pandemic world, touchless is going to play a key role in ensuring safety throughout the passenger’s journey and will be a deciding factor for the customers to choose an airline. “Today, not just Vistara, but the entire aviation industry has come together to rebuild passenger confidence in flying, which is already showing positive signs and helping fuel demand,” he said.

Global airline lobby IATA recently said it is working on a mobile app that will help travellers demonstrate their coronavirus-free status. On the other hand, Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for a global mechanism that would use QR codes to open up international travel.

Global standardisation

Industry experts and players said that though these technologies might be effective individually, a standardised platform was needed to track the spread of Covid-19 to make air travel seamless.

For example, according to Vimal Kumar Rai, founder and MD at TRACE Consulting Services, the QR code suggestion made by China may be viewed through the lens of skepticism. “The problem of course is politics and perception; China isn’t trusted on the world stage for various reasons and for this reason, its suggestion of the use of QR codes will be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. Who or what will see your data, how will it be stored and used in the future, etc — these are all major concerns.”

Kannan said that an important focus should be on “streamlining quarantine requirements across borders and a standardised testing, tracking and follow-up system to ensure recovery for the aviation industry. When it comes to global air-travel, the synergy between countries is most crucial and will be deciding the future course of the industry.”

While uniform tracking is not in place yet, airlines have taken the onus on themselves to partner with AI and machine learning-driven companies to offer touch-free travel, as well as potentially assessing risks of a passenger being exposed to Covid-19.

Safety tools

Interactive travel maps, contactless check-in, Covid-19 risk-assessment tool, Covid-19 global wellness insurance cover, companion apps, tagging kiosks, etc are among the technologies players are using in order to make air travel seamless for passengers.

UAE’s Etihad, for example, has launched a Covid-19 risk-assessment tool that guides guests in evaluating the probability of having contracted Covid-19 by responding to a set of 22 questions based on World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. Along with this, prior to their journey, guests can reach out to the airline 24/7 via a live webchat. Etihad has also announced a Covid-19 global wellness insurance cover on all tickets.

Singapore International Airlines, which aims to take the Group’s passenger capacity to approximately 19 per cent of its pre-Covid-19 levels by the end of January 2021, has launched a one-stop companion app, e-menus, pre-tagging kiosks etc for customer convenience. SIA is also working on on pre-departure testing, which is likely to launch by December 2020, said a spokesperson in response to BusinessLine’s query.

Tech deployment

Closer home, Indian airlines are implementing a host of technology partners for a slew of initiatives in various aspects including airports, customer self-help tools etc.

While Vistara has taken several cost-saving measures, including salary cuts and renegotiation of contracts, it has fast-tracked its tech-deployment plans. Kannan said that the company doesn’t consider it an expense but an investment for the future. “We understand that these technologies are going to be the norm in the future, and it is important to adapt to the changing business landscape.”

Vistara has initiatives like the casting of kiosk screens on passenger mobile, scan and fly, self-tagging, self-baggage drop, self-boarding, e-gates, biometrics/face recognition, e-boarding passes and bag tags are all touchless solutions. These efforts, according to Kannan, have started showing green shoots in demand.

An Air India spokesperson said that it is in sync with all the guidelines set by the government, and is “open to explore and adopt any system, avenue or opportunity that will help augment air travel in general, ensuring the safety and interest of the passengers.”

SpiceJet has taken the use of technology a notch above and introduced SpiceHealth. This is a move that is set to revolutionise Covid-19 testing in India and make RT-PCR tests affordable for the common man, starting at ₹499 as opposed to the current prices ranging ₹1,500- 2,500.

Spicejet has also launched SpiceOxy — a compact, portable, non-invasive ventilation device — for patients with mild to moderate breathing issues. Additionally, SpiceJet has also introduced the fingertip pulse oximeter, a handy device that makes it easier for people to measure the oxygen level of their blood.

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Published on November 29, 2020
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